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The UK Mental Health Act – what does it mean?

Application of the UK Mental Health Act (MHA) is often referred to as being sectioned.

The UK Mental Health Act – what does it mean?

This is a colloquial term for implementation of the different sections of the act, depending on which is relevant to the situation of the individual.

The act of being sectioned is to be detained in hospital and potentially treated without your wishes. You may be detained if you have a mental disorder that medical professionals feel puts you at risk to yourself or others. There are also sections of the law that apply under criminal law.

How is mental disorder defined?

The Mental Health Act (1983) does not define what can be classed as a mental disorder. Mental health professionals are given responsibility for deciding whether someone’s mental health meets the definition of being a risk to themselves or others.

It is important to note that you cannot be detained for drug or alcohol addiction. However, if your addiction is causing other mental disturbances, such as delusions, then you can be detained.

How is the Mental Health Act applied?

There are emergency sections that allow nurses and then doctors to detain you for up to 72 hours. To detain you for longer, three people must agree that it is in your best interest. The three people are a panel that is usually made up of two doctors and an AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional), which is generally a social worker but can also be a nurse or a psychologist.

It is likely that these three people will see you at the same time. However, it is possible for the professionals to meet you separately but within five days of each other.

Where will the assessment take place?

The assessment can take place in your home, a public place, or on a hospital ward. If it takes place in your home, the AMHP can apply for a warrant that allows the police to enter the house. If detained by the police in your home this is called a Section 135. If detained by the police in a public place, this is a Section 136. Where the police are involved, it is usually as a means of transporting you to a safe place where an assessment of your needs can take place.

What happens when an individual is detained?

You will be transported to or kept in the hospital. You will likely be on an acute ward, which will be secured. This means the door will be locked.

You will then be given information about your rights, both a leaflet and a briefing by a professional. You will be informed of your right to appeal the decision to detain you.

You also have access to support from Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHA) who are separate from the hospital and will be able to explain to you what is happening. IMHA work with those on Section 2 (28-day hold) and Section 3 (Up to 6-month hold). They will also have a role in communicating your concerns to the staff in the hospital.

When you might need a solicitor

When you appeal to a tribunal to overrule the decision made under Section 2 and Section 3, it is useful to seek help from a solicitor. Gurney Harden is happy to offer advice and support during such meetings.

Your Gurney Harden solicitor is also on call 24/7 for attendance at police stations, should intervention at this stage be warranted on an individual’s behalf.

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